Scientists working in a medical research facility in Australia say they may have discovered a therapy to potentially cure AIDS.
Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, led by Associate Professor Dr. David Harrich, say they have developed a form of gene therapy that turns the HIV protein against itself and ultimately stops it from replicating, according to the Australian Times.
The Queensland Institute backed the research and attached the following statement to a video interview of Harrich posted on Monday:
Associate Professor David Harrich has found a promising way of stopping HIV from causing AIDS. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is currently treated with a cocktail of drugs to stop the virus from causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). But there is no cure or vaccine... His research has uncovered how to modify a crucial protein in the virus.
Harrich himself notes that his research is not an HIV cure. "You would still be infected with HIV," he said, according to the Queensland Institute's statement. "But the virus would stay latent, it wouldn't wake up, so it wouldn't develop into AIDS. With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system."
Harrich, who has been studying the virus since 1989, told the Times that his breakthrough came at a critical point in his research, as his funding was about to run out.
"I had my PhD student try one more experiment in late 2007. The experiment was to test if Nullbasic could render HIV non-infectious," Harrich said. (Harrich uses the term "Nullbasic" to refer to the proteins that allow HIV to mutate.) "The student came back and said it worked, so I told him to do it again and again and again. It works every time.”
Speaking with Australian media network ABC News, Harrich said he considers his discovery "fighting fire with fire."
"What we've actually done is taken a normal virus protein that the virus needs to grow, and we've changed this protein, so that instead of assisting the virus, it actually impedes virus replication and does it quite strongly," he told ABC.
Further testing needs to be done, of course, and Harrich said trials on animals will begin this year. If successful, Harrich's one treatment could replace more traditional, multiple drug therapies. Harrich remarked to ABC that these advances could give HIV patients a way "to go on and live happy and productive lives with as little intrusion as possible."
Harrich's paper is published in the current issue of Human Gene Therapy.
The official announcement of his advancement came just days ahead of a similar potential breakthrough heralded by researchers at Stanford University.
The Stanford discovery was published in Molecular Therapy on Tuesday and is related to the creation of HIV-resistant T-cells. According to a Stanford press release, the research "describes the use of a kind of molecular scissors to cut and paste a series of HIV-resistant genes into T-cells." The release went on to describe how the group achieved its results: "By inactivating a receptor gene and inserting additional anti-HIV genes, the virus was blocked from entering the cells, thus preventing it from destroying the immune system."